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Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.
10

Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

(OP)
I just read this article in the latest issue of Machine Design.

http://machinedesign.com/article/the-case-of-the-hollowed-out-engineering-department-0909#comment-3218

I think it hits home and exactly describes my current work situation.

I'm 2 years out of college and this has been my first job since barring the co-ops I did while in college.

I don't have an engineering manager and instead report directly to the plant manager (and everyone else it seems).

I'm considering a new employment opportunity but am not sure if I'll just be running into the same situation.

Is anyone else experiencing the "case of the hollowed out engineer?"

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

I've been out of college for a lot more than two years. ... but that doesn't make it any easier to step into one of these hollow nightmares.

Been there, done that, more than twice.

 

Mike Halloran
Pembroke Pines, FL, USA

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

2
When I came into industry, I came in after they had massive layoffs.  However, because of the size of the company, the ranks still had some great engineers.  But, from the scars left from those layoffs, many engineers will not teach the new guys in fear of teaching their replacements.  Because of this, I had to be progressive on how internal workings of the company worked and how to use my engineering savvy (analysis) to get good designs.  In instances like these, I think it is better to be born out of fire than to be spoon fed.  You will definitely not forget your mistakes and your wins will be more fulfilling.  

Also from this passage from the article :

"As with any engineering argument, we must consider the other side: What is real work? Real work is when your simplistic model uncovers an unsuspected problem. Unsuspected is a nice way of saying that the results clearly indicate you need to bring out the "big guns" of analysis, nonlinearities."

This passage has hit home for me.  I have always tried to put theory I have learned in school into practice in the real world.  This has been my constant thru out my career and it has paid off into six figures.  Don't be fooled by others who could not transfer their skills and knowledge from college to practice that the engineering classes you have taken in college are useless in the real world.  Theory and your ability to do the analysis will set you apart.  Anybody can design, but not many can engineer.  Start your career right.
 

Tobalcane
"If you avoid failure, you also avoid success."  

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

(OP)
Thanks for the replies so far, very insightful.

I think my biggest concern right now is recognition for the ability to uncover the need for analysis and then do it.  Work isn't always about the money, I know, but it is what I consider good workplace praise for a job well done.  I get a lot of personal satisfaction from creating things or overcoming problems, but so far I've seen nothing so much as a pat on the back from my colleagues for certain achievements.  This has led to me being reluctant in "going the extra mile" to improve the processes around me when I know I can get by with a simple investigation, versus a detailed dissertation that really drills down.

Having not received a raise in two years and instead incurring a 10% salary reduction and furloughs across the staff has had a significant impact on morale.

Remaining positive and being steadfast in my quest for knowledge keeps me going, but I can only hope that I am not spoiling the rest of my career by toiling in a hollowed out place.

I completely agree, Tobalcane, that I see the merits of my effort with noone to spoon feed me, and I find myself over and above in experience than my other college graduates.  Then again, it seems to me that it's not what you've toiled through, it's more about how you leverage it.

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

4
Well the problem as described in the article is not limited to engineering, nor even 'hollowed out' working groups.  The trouble, as I see it, is that talent and ability are magnets for problems.  People inside an organization that display above average ability in problem solving almost always find themselves as the object around which other departments orbit.  These problem-solvers often end up being in the center of a "gravity well".  All the problems and issues that other areas can't or won't deal with are naturally drawn to the 'go-to' employees who typically can generate "some" kind of solution.

Engineers are burdened with this responsibility more often than other professions simply because we have one of the few undergraduate programs that place extreme emphasis on problem solving.  Even if the topic is completely new to us we are usually capable of researching how to define the parameters and then how to solve it, or at worst making an educated guess.  This is the root of the issue, even our shakiest solutions are often far better than anything anyone else in the organization has come up with.  We may view our solution with unease because we know how much uncertainty we had in arriving at it and how many details we had to guess at.  The rest of the organization is just happy to have ANY solution and ignores, or files away, any reservations the engineer has about it.

So it doesn't matter where you go if you have an engineering background, or are a natural problem solver.  Unless you plan on playing possum and not standing out out when problems arise you will run into similar issues in sales, business, etc.  Once people know you can solve tough problems the process will begin again, limited only by how much access to you they can get.  This is the KEY element of many engineering manager's jobs: limiting access to his engineers because he knows what will happen.  In the example story the OP posted the lack of an Engineering Manager basically forces the engineer himself to be the 'bad cop' and say "no" to people which NEVER goes over well.

http://www.linkedin.com/in/gregtirevold

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

(OP)
"the lack of an Engineering Manager basically forces the engineer himself to be the 'bad cop' and say "no" to people which NEVER goes over well."

This is exactly my current problem with title juggling around the corporation.  As I had taken over temporarily for a quality manager that had stepped down, I was "granted" the title of "Quality Analyst" from my previous Manufacturing Engineer title in order to "fill a gap".  Now that another Quality Manager has filled in, I am being pulled between several roles, and I fear any "No." might come across as insubordination.

So basically I feel I am lacking from a sense of direction.  I know that I can identify problems in the plant that need solving, but I get the feeling that noone else knows what I actually DO unless the task directly involves them.  It could simply be solved by prioritization, but prioritized to WHOSE agenda?  It actually has so far led to me playing possum, but I try to do my best when and where I can.

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

You're screwed; you can't serve multiple masters.

I'd suggest you find another job, then quit (in that order please), but you're screwed there, too; there ain't no other jobs.

All that remains is:
Keep doing your best in the time allotted.  When the paycheck clears, you have broken even for another pay period; they owe you nothing more, and >you owe them nothing more<.  Keep that in mind.

 

Mike Halloran
Pembroke Pines, FL, USA

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

No one has mentioned the fact that the companies that cut engineering the most, value engineers the least.  So when you go in to work for one of these "hollowed out" companies you are forced to be at the whim of sales, marketing, accounting, and finance, because those are the "important" people in management's eyes.  Those are the ones that bring in the money.  

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

(OP)
Funny you say that, Mike.  I have a job interview today :D

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

"I have a job interview today"

Just out of curiosity, what did you advertise yourself as?  You said you had several titles, Quality Analyst, Manf Eng, Mechanical Eng, etc.

http://www.linkedin.com/in/gregtirevold

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

(OP)
The recruiter contacted me. I never represent myself as a title.  I approach a position with my skills and experience and I accept whatever the company will call me.  After all, that is what a title represents is the position and what the community agrees your title is.

If you are referring to the protected title of engineer, the problem is not what you call yourself, but how you REPRESENT yourself.  If you are MIS-representing yourself by calling yourself an engineer with the connotation that you are capable and reliable to perform public engineering services with recognition of the state (governing entity) and you are NOT recognized by said entity, then I believe you are misrepresenting yourself and in violation of state law.

Being that I graduated with an MET (Mechanical Engineering Technology Bachelor of Science [ABET accredited]) I often struggle with my "title."  But really it is irrelevant and what you represent is what you're capable of doing, reliably.

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

I wasn't really referring that that aspect :)

I was just curious if holding any of those other titles had any effect on you getting an interview is all.  Point being did the recruiter contact you because of those other roles or just the simple mechanical engineering skills?  I guess I was mainly trying to determine if the job title shuffle maybe helped you out at all.

 

http://www.linkedin.com/in/gregtirevold

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

(OP)
The recruiter contacted me because she got a recommendation from my HR manager at the time, actually.

I think I'm in a better position to take this job because of my versatile experience.  I remember what an old football coach I had said to me: "You're like a 'T' block in Tetris, I can put you anywhere, and that makes you a valuable player"

So I think having many different skillsets can help you to apply your knowledge from many different angles.  There are always fundamentals in every job and knowing those can really give you an edge and be able to fill any role.  With my background in engineering, I can still apply my knowledge and skillset from that problem solving oriented background and succeed at anything.  Anyone who says that a "jack of all trades is a master of none" is someone who never knew how to LEVERAGE all of his skills and see that there are similarities in every position.  Why do you think CEOs can move from industry to industry unhindered?  It's because they know the fundamentals and know how to apply their own knowledge and background to get results.


Also, to clarify, I haven't had the job interview yet, I have just the pre-screen interview (2nd one) and then I'll be interviewed by the company.

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

I've had lots of phone interviews conducted by those 'pre-recruiters' this year.  It seems to be a new position.

All of them ended with an assertion that I'd get a call from the _real_ recruiter.  Never happened.

I hope you do better.



 

Mike Halloran
Pembroke Pines, FL, USA

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

Actually you should carry yourself as jack of all trades and a master of "one".  You should show (and brand yourself) that you are an expert in one, but have a broad bandwidth of skills that make you the right individual to hire or to be the go to guy.

Tobalcane
"If you avoid failure, you also avoid success."  

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

(OP)
Yeah that's what I meant, Tobalcane.  At the core I enjoy and do engineering work, but those other roles certainly give me the perspective I need to succeed in related jobs or positions.

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

(OP)
So I "passed" the pre-screen interview through the recruiter and the client wants to meet me.

This facilities engineer position is new to me.  I'm only 2 years out of college and nervous whether or not I'm ready!  I am confident in my abilities but they did specify someone with a few more years of experience.

I've been brushing up on topics that I haven't used since I graduated but am not sure if that'll be enough.  I suppose it'll be up to them to decide but I hope to present myself honestly and not misrepresent myself or my abilities.  I do try to live at my edge though and outside of my comfort zone so that I can grow professionally as an engineer.

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

(OP)
Update:

I have made it through the interview process with success!  I have accepted the offer from the new company as a Facilities Engineer and will begin work in 2 weeks!  Broader horizons ahead!

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

Congrats Techne!

How did your 'old employer' take the news you're leaving?  Did they suddenly develop an intense desire to keep you or are they used to people 'escaping into the lifeboats' so to speak?



 

http://www.linkedin.com/in/gregtirevold

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

(OP)
Thanks Greg.

My plant manager kind of stared me down and subtly tried to convince me I was making the wrong decision.  He was a little taken aback and mentioned if there was "anything they could do about this".  I said I had made up my mind and feel I'm making the right decision.

I am going into the unknown with this.  I'd hate to think I'm running away from something instead of running toward what I want, but it's a little of both.

I think the new job will be more challenging and will help me grow professionally as an engineer.  We will see though.

Everyone else so far has been really happy for me and mentioned they could see why I was going and that they figured they couldn't hold me here for long with my background.  I appreciate the compliments and only hope I can do even better at the next job.

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

seriously, though it probably won't help any, i think you've got the opportunity to tell your boss why you're quitting so that maybe they can learn and the next guy won't quite so skrewed.  mind you they can just as easily reply "quit y'r whinging" ... either way nothing lost as far as you're concerned.

just keep running towards the light (and pray you're not a moth or that the light isn't an on-coming train)

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

(OP)
I was discussing the potential "exit interview" with a friend where I would have an opportunity to give feedback to the employer.

For some reason I feel like this is feeble, as I feel pretty insignificant and that my opinion doesn't matter.  If they didn't value my opinion before, why would they now?

They had voice of the employee surveys but they went widely disregarded and passed off.

If they genuinely want my opinion though, I will give it to them.

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

There have been plenty of threads relating to what to tell the company you're leaving.

General consensus seems to be it's better not to burn bridges than to try and get things off your chest/improve things for those left behind.  Plus, they probably don't really care what you have to say anyway.

Posting guidelines FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies http://eng-tips.com/market.cfm? (probably not aimed specifically at you)
What is Engineering anyway: FAQ1088-1484: In layman terms, what is "engineering"?

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

You're right, they don't value your opinion, never did, never will.

They would, however, be perfectly happy to use out of context or misquote whatever you might say in an exit interview, for the purpose of savaging your reputation  with prospective employers.  Never in an actionable way, of course.

Even if the HR weenies don't actively try to kill your career, your former colleagues might.  Suppose you praise them all profusely during your exit interview. ... but forget one or two, quite by accident.  Will those two feel scorned?  Will they retaliate if the opportunity presents?  You betcha.


There is absolutely no upside to giving an exit interview, even if they ask for it.  ... especially if they ask for it.
 

Mike Halloran
Pembroke Pines, FL, USA

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

(OP)
Great points about the exit interview.  I have chosen my words very carefully and with tact in order to avoid being misquoted or misrepresented.

I speak the the facts, and that's all I'm willing to offer up.   

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

(OP)
One question I do have though is about handing off my knowledge to someone else in the department.  What sort of protocols are generally accepted in this practice?


I mean 2 weeks isn't enough time to tell someone how to do my job or run then through the fundamentals of metallurgy.  Best advice I can give them right now is to learn how to open a book and do their own research.

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

I got paid to to do an extended handover after I'd left my last place.

Unless they plan on doing this I wouldn't worry too much.  If they have someone appointed to do your duties when you leave then try and give them some basic idea of what you're working on and where it's associated files etc. are located.  If no one is designated, then maybe make a few notes with this information in them and email to your boss or similar, maybe leave a hard copy on your desk when you leave.

Beyond that, I'd say it's up to them if they want more.

Posting guidelines FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies http://eng-tips.com/market.cfm? (probably not aimed specifically at you)
What is Engineering anyway: FAQ1088-1484: In layman terms, what is "engineering"?

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

"My plant manager kind of stared me down and subtly tried to convince me I was making the wrong decision.  "

Or was he just thinking "darn, wish I could do that"?  No, probably not.

"One question I do have though is about handing off my knowledge to someone else in the department. "

They should've been thinking about having double coverage on your job a long time ago.  You owe them 2 weeks by custom only.  I have had prior employers attempt to have me work weekends on contract to cover the hole left by my departure...the negotiations broke down when I wouldn't accept "regular pay" for my weekends, but wanted 2x pay instead...;)

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

(OP)
So I started my new job at the company as a Facilities Engineer.  So far I am loving it, but it is a lot of work.  I was tasked with a few projects right off the bat and am really clearing out the cobwebs from sitting idle for 2 years since graduation.

I have a manager who really knows his stuff and is practical too.  I may be OVER engineering things at this point, but I'm sure I will settle down with more experience.

I am really glad I took the leap of faith and hope I can really excel in the environment I was meant to be in all along putting my education to work.  I just hope I'm not too rusty and the learning curve from being fresh of out college is still there even though I've have technically been in the workforce for 2 years.

Thanks for all the support!

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

Just got my copy of the Nov. 18 issue, which included the following editorial on "How to run a 'nonhollowed-out' company"

http://machinedesign.com/node/87044

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

Techne, how about an update?

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

2
One of the big problems with hollowed out engineering departments is trying to get promotions. I've made it an objective throughout my carrier to obtain credentials and skills germane to the trade.

After getting passed by for promotions, I started asking the interviewing manager what the problem was.

The way I understand it, hiring the managers aren't sure from reading my credentials and work history what types of things I've done.

Apparently the managers here have such thin backgrounds they can't understand common trade terminology and what types of work these common activities entail.

So, if you are applying for a job in an organization that is hollowed out, be sure you describe all of your previous experience in terms your wife can understand. That way hiring managers can too.

MBAs are given more weight in our engineering department than technical credentials anyway.  

I wonder if that really means they ultimately plan to outsource all the engineering work.  

There also give a lot of lip service to project management training, however I've found that if you plan a project here and your plan captures the full cost and scope of what it will take to do a job, the management uses that information to undermine the project by withholding resources at critical times.

Watch out for engineering departments where the Sr. Managers only technical interest seems to be bicycles.
 

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

Some of us in the post Flintstone era might find using ones wife as arbiter of simple language a tad offensive, or at least likely to be met with a thwack from a rolling pin, or PhD thesis.

Rather than generate elaborate conspiracy theories, why not admit that your face doesn't fit and then get out of Dodge?


 

Cheers

Greg Locock


New here? Try reading these, they might help FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies  http://eng-tips.com/market.cfm?

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

At least the way I read it, kontiki99 simply meant 'in a way a non-engineer would understand' and was suggesting the use of more univerisal language versus trade jargon.  

 

RE: Hollowed Out Engineering Depts.

GregLocock,

I said "terms your wife can understand," you said "simple."  

People without a background in the business tend to need things explained.

I do think you are correct though. Getting out of dodge is a good idea.  

I'm doing very well there financially too. There is no particular rush. It's nice to be able to do it at my convienence.

I don't think the company made the best choices, talent and experience wise.  

We have a lead engineer that told me he thinks the world is 8000 years old.  I ran into that at the last job too.  I know what it takes to get promoted in the South. It's hard to know when the mumbo jumbo magic cuts off and physical laws of nature cut in though.

It may or may not ever become a critical problem for them business wise. It's not like they do much more than shuffle paper. Anything major has to be approved by the FAA.

Listening to someone recount second hand nonsense at meetings like it was knowledge gained from actual experience can be kind of fun to watch too.

 

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